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Sony Accuses ‘Skyline’ of… Making a Low-Budget Blockbuster

Sony sends Hydraulx a cease-and-desist letter demanding company stop using its special-effects equipment, but the real issue is the release date

Sony, the studio behind the $100 million alien invasion movie “Battle: Los Angeles,” is accusing the producers of a similar-themed movie of ripping off equipment and ideas for their lower budget production.

The producers denied the charge to TheWrap and said the issue was really that they had made a low-budget blockbuster that was coming out before Sony's.

Either way, audiences are going to be treated to two aliens-invade-Los Angeles movies in the next six months.

But not if Sony can help it.

Sony sent a letter to Hydraulx, the producers of “Skyline” and the company that did the special effects for “Battle,” demanding it cease and desist from using equipment that the studio says it owns.

“We demand you stop breaching your visual effects agreement,” the letter reads.The letter also says the studio would not have hired Hydraulx to do special effects had it know about the Skyline project.

But Hydraulx said Sony's charges were meritless, and that the real reason for the letter is that Sony wants to force Hydraulx to move its release date until after "Battle" debuts in March 2011.

"Skyline" is scheduled to be released on Nov. 12, 2010.

Hydraulx co-founder Greg Strause said that producer Neal Moritz was  told about their movie last fall. Moritz says that is not the case, according to a knowledgeable individual.

And Strause told TheWrap he was offended at the notion that they had stolen anything.

"We utterly deny" using' Battle LA' equipment on 'Skyline,' said Strause, who with his brother Colin is the co-director of 'Skyline'. "That’s highly offensive. It’s completely untrue."

Strause denied using any ideas from "Skyline" in "Battle: Los Angeles."

"We’ve been in the alien invasion business for many years before Battle LA," said Strause. "The first movie I directed was an alien invasion, called 'Alien Vs Predator: Requiem.' That’s one of the reasons they came to us, we do computer generated aliens well."

Sony declined to comment for this article.

The studio was shown footage from Skyline and was offered the opportunity to distribute it earlier this year, and declined.

Only later, after seeing the 'Skyline' trailer debuted to a big audience reaction at Comic-Con, the studio worried that it had essentially financed a cheap knock-off of its big-budget science fiction film, the individual told TheWrap

“Skyline” is a $20 million film directed by Greg and Colin Strause, who also worked on the special effects for “Avatar.” It centers on a group of friends in Los Angeles who struggle to survive an alien attack. Its gritty theme has earned it comparisons to “District 9.”

“Battle” stars Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez and centers on a marine platoon that faces off against alien forces … in, of course, L.A. That film is more reminiscent of "Black Hawk Down" or "The Hurt Locker."

It also cost about five times as much as "Skyline."

Sony believes that Hydraulx concealed the competitive nature of their project from "Battle: Los Angeles" producers. The studio is investigating the extent to which Hydraulx's work on the Sony's big budget project may have been used to create the alien effects for "Skyline."

But Strause said that Sony, producers like Moritz and other major studios feel threatened by the ability of filmmakers to produce movies at a low cost that may prove as entertaining as big-budget productions.

"We were inspired by 'Paranormal Activity,'" he said. "We were frustrated with the studio process. We thought we could definitely shoot a movie in our house. And that’s what we did. It was a very small production… As independent filmmakers, we’re trying to change the model"

Relativity purchased the U.S. rights to "Skyline" in May. The company plans to distribute the film through Universal.